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NCAA tournament

Jaquez, Plummer lead Latinos in NCAA tournament

More than two dozen Latinos feature in NCAA tournament

You cannot have March Madness without at least a few Latinos. This year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament features several Latinos. 

UCLA guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., one of the biggest stories of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, is back for more. Jaquez and the Bruins hope to improve on last year’s Final Four appearance. 

The No. 4-seed Bruins (25-7) will face No. 13-seed Akron (24-9) on Thursday in Portland in the East Regional.

Illinois Boricuas

The University of Illinois is another No. 4 seed with a strong Latino presence. The Fighting Illini will try to work their way through the South Regional. They’ll face No. 13 seed Chattanooga (27-7) in the first round Friday in Pittsburgh. 

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One of the leaders of this year’s Illinois team is Alfonso Plummer, a shooting guard and graduate transfer in his first year with the Illini program. Plummer, a native of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, earned third-team All-Big Ten honors. 

He led the Illini to a 22-9 record, including an impressive 15-5 conference record.

Circuitous route to NCAA tournament

Plummer began his career at Arizona Western College (2017-2019) and led the team to the NJCAA Region I title. He then transferred to the University of Utah, where he played two seasons and made the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll. 

The 24-year old Plummer is one of three Puerto Ricans on the Illini backcourt. Andre Curbelo, a sophomore from Vega Baja, averaged 8.1 points and 19.2 minutes per game. Freshman guard RJ Melendez is from Arecibo.

Those three are not the only Latinos in the Land of Lincoln on an NCAA tournament team. Akron is led by Xavier Castañeda, a Chicago native. The Windy City product started all 33 games this season and averaged 32 minutes and 13.5 points per game. 

The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Castañeda transferred from the University of South Florida. James Rojas, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, comes off the bench for No. 6 seed Alabama.

Justin Minaya, the son of former Montreal Expos and New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya, is a graduate student at No. 4 seed Providence.

Minaya, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 6.4 points per game for the Big East champions.

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